Chicken dhansak in a pan with rice and coriander

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Whether chicken dhansak is your go-to takeaway order, or if it’s an entirely new dish for you, there’s no denying that this tasty curry has a lot to offer! Made with tender chicken in a creamy lentil sauce incorporating sweet and sour flavours. Dhansak is the perfect choice if you’re looking for something that’s both filling and comforting. Read on to find out how to make this iconic dish in the comfort of your own kitchen.

What is it?

Dhansak is one of the most popular dishes in Indian cuisine. It has a distinct sweet and sour flavour with a mixture of chicken and lentils for a hearty and satisfying meal, perfect for warming you up on cooler nights. The dish gets its complex flavour from a blend of spices that includes turmeric, coriander and cumin along with garlic and ginger. It’s a very thick curry, almost like a stew.

Dhansak originates from India, where it was created by the Parsi community. The Parsis migrated to India from nearby Persia and therefore the dish has influences from both cuisines.

Traditionally dhansak is often served after a period of mourning, during which no meat is eaten for 3 days. It is often served to break the abstinence, as a way to slowly introduce meat back into the diet. This is largely because dhansak offers a unique blend of vegetarian and meat ingredients rather than being heavily skewed towards one or the other. The use of lentils also serves as a way to ‘pad out’ the meal. Extending more expensive meat ingredients with lower-cost pulses.

Chicken dhansak on a table with lemon and coriander

How spicy is dhansak?

If you enjoy your curry on the warmer side then dhansak is definitely the dish for you! This popular Indian curry is packed full of spices, As a result, it is usually served from medium to hot.

Of course, the level of heat can vary depending on how it is prepared, so if you are looking for a milder version you can swap the medium curry powder with mild and reduce the chilli powder. Alternatively, if you’re feeling adventurous you can up the heat to hot, or add more chilli. Either way, dhansak is sure to leave your taste buds tingling!

What can I serve it with?

When it comes to choosing the perfect side dish for curry, you really are spoilt for choice. Naturally, rice helps to absorb the rich flavours of the meal, while naan bread is perfect for mopping up any extra sauce. For a lighter option, steamed vegetables or a simple green salad are both excellent sides. A dollop or two of cooling cucumber and mint raita is also a great way to moderate the heat.

If you are looking for some ideas to add some extra pizzazz to your table, why not try:

Chicken dhansak in bowls with rice

What type of lentils should I use?

Traditionally Dhansak is made using four different types of lentils. “Ain’t nobody got time for that”, you may be thinking, and you’d be right. In UK curry houses it would be rare to find it prepared in this extravagant original style.

Most modern Western versions of this recipe use split red lentils. These not only add to the rich colour of the sauce, but they also cook very fast, meaning that you aren’t confined to a full afternoon in the kitchen when making it.

Can I make it in advance?

Dhansak is great for making in advance. You can chill leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 days or freeze them for up to 3 months. Defrost thoroughly before reheating and then heat on the hob or in the microwave.


For a full list of ingredients with weights and measurements, jump to the printable recipe card.

Chicken dhansak ingredients

for the lentils…

  • Red split lentils
  • Bay leaves
  • Turmeric

for the curry…

  • Garlic cloves
  • Medium onions, sliced into quarters
  • Ginger paste
  • Oil
  • Tomato puree – (paste if you are in the US)
  • Chicken thigh, chopped
  • Sugar
  • Lemon juice

for the spice mix…

  • Medium curry powder
  • Coriander powder
  • Cumin powder
  • Turmeric
  • Chilli powder

How to make it

For more detailed instructions with recipe tips jump to the printable recipe card.

Recipe Steps
  1. Bring the lentils to a boil in 350ml of water, along with the bay leaf and turmeric. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes.
  2. Blitz the garlic in a food processor. Add the onion and process further before adding the ginger.
  3. Fry the onion, garlic and ginger paste in a large frying pan/skillet over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the spice mix and cook for a further minute.
  5. Add the chicken and tomato puree and cook for 4-5 minutes until the chicken is sealed.
  6. Tip in the sugar and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 10 minutes.
  7. Whisk the lentils to break them down and then add them to the pan along with any residual water and the lemon juice.
  8. Simmer everything for 5 minutes. Add a splash more water if the mixture is too thick.

Looking for more great curry recipes? Why not try:

Products that work well for this recipe:

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Chicken dhansak in a pan with rice and coriander

Chicken Dhansak

  • Author: caroline
  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x


With tender chicken in a creamy lentil sauce incorporating sweet & sour flavours, Chicken Dhansak is perfect when you need something filling & comforting.

The default recipe serves 4.


Units Scale

for the lentils…

  • 100g red split lentils (see notes 1,2)
  • 350ml water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric

for the curry…

  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 medium onions, sliced into quarters
  • 1 tbsp ginger paste
  • 2 tbsp oil (vegetable or rapeseed/canola)
  • 3 tbsp tomato puree (tomato paste in the US)
  • 500g boneless and skinless chicken thigh, chopped (see note 3)
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice

for the spice mix…

  • 1 tbsp medium curry powder
  • 1 tbsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp chilli powder


  1. Rinse and drain the lentils 2-3 times to remove any grit. Add to a pan with the water, bay leaves and turmeric. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a low simmer and cover. Cook for around 20 minutes.
  2. While the lentils are cooking start the curry. Add the garlic cloves to a food processor and blitz until chopped. Add the onions and process further until you have a slack paste. Finally, add the ginger paste and give it a final whizz to combine everything. Alternatively, you can grate the onion and garlic and then mix everything together.
  3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion mixture and cook for 2-3 minutes until softened. It will splutter a little in the beginning. (see note 4)
  4. Add the spice mix to the pan and stir everything together for 30 seconds, to ‘bloom’ the spices and allow them to release their aroma.
  5. Add the tomato puree to the pan and then add the chicken. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring regularly until the chicken is sealed on all sides.
  6. Add the sugar to the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  7. Once the lentils are cooked, use a whisk to stir through them to break them down further. They should be very creamy and soft.
  8. Add the lentils to the pan along with any residual water they were cooking in. Add the lemon juice and let everything simmer for a further 5 minutes. If it looks a little dry add more water. If there is too much liquid in the curry then simmer it more to reduce it down.
  9. Serve with rice or naan bread.


  1. Most of the red lentils you’ll find in supermarkets are split (you’ll be able to see they are flat on one side where they are split in half). However, if you have whole lentils increase the cooking time by 5-10 minutes.
  2. Red lentils don’t need soaking.
  3. While thigh meat gives the most tender result, you can use chicken breast if preferred.
  4. You may notice that the onions turn a bit of a green shade when cooking. This is because of a chemical reaction which is exacerbated by cooking it with garlic. It’s perfectly safe and once you add the spices to the pan is completely unnoticeable!
  5. Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Defrost before reheating and heat on the hob/stove or in the microwave.
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Category: Curry
  • Method: Hob
  • Cuisine: Indian


  • Serving Size: 1
  • Calories: 460
  • Fat: 22g
  • Carbohydrates: 34g
  • Protein: 34g

Keywords: indian, curry, spicy, hot, dinner, lentils

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